How Closely Should Voluntary and Mandatory Efficiency Programs Be Coordinated?

July 11, 2016

By Carl Weinschenk, Energy Manager Today

The 2030 Districts program is gaining steam. The latest district is in Ithaca and Tomkins County, New York. Late last month, it became the thirteenth district — and a fourteenth may be on the way.

The success of the program – and other efforts to convince building owners and energy managers to focus on energy efficiency — begs important questions: Is there a danger that mandated programs and voluntary initiatives overlap and potentially conflict with each other? Should stakeholders be working to coordinate these programs they evolve? The bottom line is that two tracks — voluntary and mandatory — potentially are cumbersome, inefficient and ultimately could lead to dissatisfaction among those torn between the two.

The 2030 Districts program is a project of 2030 Architecture. The ultimate goal is to reduce by half building energy use intensity (EUI), water consumption and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. There are interim goals as well: Districts strive to cut their EUI by 20 percent by the end of 2020 and 35 percent by the end of 2025.

The Ithaca district, which is the first in New York State, is being led by 17 entities. These include local business owners, community organizations, professional stakeholders and others, according to the press release. So far, buildings representing 1 million square feet of space have agreed to be part of the Ithaca project. “We’ve been working on this effort since 2014,” wrote Peter Bardaglio, the Ithaca 2030 District  Executive Director and Founder and President of Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield, NY. “We received a NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] grant through the Cleaner, Greener Communities Program that began in January 2016, which has allowed us to move forward with the planning necessary to establish the District.”

That square footage could grow. The cumulative amount of building area dedicated to 2030 Districts is 276 million square feet. The other districts are in Albuquerque (12 million square feet committed to the program); Cleveland (40 million square feet); Dallas (18 million square feet); Denver (21 million square feet); Grand Rapids, MI (9 million square feet); Los Angeles (11 million square feet); Pittsburgh (68 million square feet); San Antonio (3 million square feet); San Francisco (10 million square feet); Seattle (45 million square feet); Stamford, CT (14 million square feet) and Toronto (24 million square feet).

Cities that may become 2030 Districts are Portland, ME; New York City, Austin, Ann Arbor and Detroit, according to the organization.

The Portland Press report on how the city is dealing energy management is quite interesting. The City Council is moving on two fronts: One approach under considering is requiring buildings – both commercial and public – to report usage. The other — the 2030 District — is voluntary. One voice in the Portland Press story –City Council member Edward Suslovic – suggested that the voluntary approach be attempted before mandatory reporting and disclosure laws be put in place.

The idea is that voluntary efforts can fail – if they are marketed poorly, have goals that are in conflict with an organization’s bottom one or for other reasons. Even if successful in establishing a presence, voluntary programs may not represent a high enough penetration to achieve the goals that a mandatory process would.

On the other hand, mandatory have their challenges as well. The first is that they are, well, mandatory. They almost certainly are less likely to get the buy-in or generate the enthusiasm of voluntary efforts. Technology spending mandated by such programs likely will result in resentment. These programs may be successful — but are less likely to be popular.

In the long run, it behooves people on all sides of the energy efficiency question to reconcile voluntary and mandatory approaches. It seems likely that there will be approaches that combine the two. The worst outcome would be for each to operate in a vacuum. Asking or demanding buildings take certain steps in managing and reporting upon energy use undoubtedly will lead to duplication. Careful planning among all stakeholders should be able to avoid this problem.